Parks & Recreation

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Parks and recreation facilities provide opportunities for physical activity and can help people of all ages lead a more active lifestyle. People who live near parks are more likely to be active. However, some lower-income communities and communities of color tend to have less access to quality parks and recreation facilities. Our research documents the most effective ways to improve the design, quality and availability of parks and recreation resources. Making recreational facilities accessible in all communities is a critical strategy for increasing physical activity and preventing obesity.

Download our Parks and Recreation-related Resources Sheet for the best evidence available about a variety of park- and trail-based strategies for promoting physical activity.

View The Role of Parks and Recreation in Promoting Physical Activity infographic.

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Social and Environmental Factors Related to Boys' and Girls' Park-Based Physical Activity

Date: 
06/18/2015
Description: 

Bocarro, J. N., Floyd, M. F., Smith, W. R., Edwards, M. B., Schultz, C. L., Baran, P. K., et al. (2015). Social and Environmental Factors Related to Boys' and Girls' Park-Based Physical Activity. Preventing Chronic Disease, 12(E97). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd12.140532.

Abstract: 

INTRODUCTION: Parks provide opportunities for physical activity for children. This study examined sex differences in correlates of park-based physical activity because differences may indicate that a standard environmental intervention to increase activity among children may not equally benefit boys and girls. METHODS: The System for Observation Play and Recreation in Communities was used to measure physical activity among 2,712 children and adolescents in 20 neighborhood parks in Durham, North Carolina, in 2007. Sedentary activity, walking, vigorous park activity, and energy expenditure were the primary outcome variables. Hierarchical logit regression models of physical activity were estimated separately for boys and girls. RESULTS: Type of activity area and presence of other active children were positively associated with boys’ and girls’ physical activity, and presence of a parent was negatively associated. A significant interaction involving number of recreation facilities in combination with formal activities was positively associated with girls’ activity. A significant interaction involving formal park activity and young boys (aged 0-5 y) was negatively associated with park-based physical activity. CONCLUSION: Activity area and social correlates of park-based physical activity were similar for boys and girls; findings for formal park programming, age, and number of facilities were mixed. Results show that girls’ physical activity was more strongly affected by social effects (eg, presence of other active children) whereas boys’ physical activity was more strongly influenced by the availability of park facilities. These results can inform park planning and design. Additional studies are necessary to clarify sex differences in correlates of park-based physical activity.

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A Community-based Intervention Increases Physical Activity and Reduces Obesity in School-age Children in North Carolina

Date: 
06/01/2015
Description: 

Benjamin Neelon, S. E., Namenek Brouwer, R. J., Østbye, T., Evenson, K. R., Neelon, B., Martinie, A., & Bennett, G. G. (2015). A Community-based Intervention Increases Physical Activity and Reduces Obesity in School-age Children in North Carolina. Childhood Obesity, 11(3), 297-303.

Abstract: 

BACKGROUND: Community-based interventions are promising approaches to obesity prevention, but few studies have prospectively evaluated them. The aim of this study was to evaluate a natural experiment-a community intervention designed to promote active living and decrease obesity within a small southern town. METHODS: In 2011, community leaders implemented the Mebane on the Move intervention-a community-wide effort to promote physical activity (PA) and decrease obesity among residents of Mebane, North Carolina. We measured child PA and BMI before and after the intervention, using a nearby town not implementing an intervention as the comparison. In total, we assessed 64 children from Mebane and 40 from the comparison community 6 months before, as well as 34 and 18 children 6 months after the intervention. We assessed PA with accelerometers worn for 7 days and calculated BMI z-scores using children's height and weight. We conducted multivariable linear regressions examining pre- to post-intervention change in minutes of PA and BMI z-score, adjusting for confounders. RESULTS: At follow-up, children in Mebane modestly increased their moderate-to-vigorous PA (1.3 minutes per hour; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.2, 2.3; p=0.03) and vigorous activity (0.8 minutes per hour; 95% CI: 0.1, 1.5; p=0.04) more than comparison children. In intervention children, BMI z-scores decreased 0.5 units (kg/m(2); 95% CI: -0.9, -0.02; p=0.045), compared to children in the comparison community. CONCLUSIONS: We observed positive effects on PA level and weight status of children in Mebane, despite high rates of attrition, suggesting that the community-based intervention may have been successful.

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Association of Proximity and Density of Parks and Objectively Measured Physical Activity in the United States: A Systematic Review

Date: 
08/01/2015
Description: 

Bancroft, C., Joshi, S., Rundle, A., Hutson, M., Chong, C., Weiss, C. C., et al. (2015). Association of Proximity and Density of Parks and Objectively Measured Physical Activity in the United States: A Systematic Review. Social Science & Medicine, 138, 22-30.

Abstract: 

One strategy for increasing physical activity is to create and enhance access to park space. We assessed the literature on the relationship of parks and objectively measured physical activity in population-based studies in the United States (US) and identified limitations in current built environment and physical activity measurement and reporting. Five English-language scholarly databases were queried using standardized search terms. Abstracts were screened for the following inclusion criteria: 1) published between January 1990 and June 2013; 2) US-based with a sample size greater than 100 individuals; 3) included built environment measures related to parks or trails; and 4) included objectively measured physical activity as an outcome. Following initial screening for inclusion by two independent raters, articles were abstracted into a database. Of 10,949 abstracts screened, 20 articles met the inclusion criteria. Five articles reported a significant positive association between parks and physical activity. Nine studies found no association, and six studies had mixed findings. Our review found that even among studies with objectively measured physical activity, the association between access to parks and physical activity varied between studies, possibly due to heterogeneity of exposure measurement. Self-reported (vs. independently-measured) neighborhood park environment characteristics and smaller (vs. larger) buffer sizes were more predictive of physical activity. We recommend strategies for further research, employing standardized reporting and innovative study designs to better understand the relationship of parks and physical activity.

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Built Environment Associations with Adiposity Parameters Among Overweight and Obese Hispanic Youth

Date: 
07/01/2015
Description: 

Hsieh, S., Klassen, A. C., Curriero, F. C., Caulfield, L. E., Cheskin, L. J., Davis, J. N., et al. (2015). Built Environment Associations with Adiposity Parameters Among Overweight and Obese Hispanic Youth. Preventive Medicine Reports, 2, 406-412.

Abstract: 

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to establish neighborhood built environment correlates of adiposity as measured by dual X-ray absorptiometry. The utility and methodological gains of using this measure for built environment research were further investigated by comparing model fit across parallel models on body mass index z-scores and waist circumference. METHODS: Pre-existing data collected from 2001 to 2011 on 576 overweight and obese Hispanic youth were compiled with built environment data, and 2000 census data for analyses conducted in 2012. Walking-distance buffers were built around participants' residential locations. Variables for park space, food access, walkability, and neighborhood socio-cultural aspects were entered into a multivariate regression model predicting percent body fat. Parallel models were built for body mass index z-score, and waist circumference. RESULTS: Significant associations were found between percent body fat and supermarket access for boys, and percent body fat and increased park space and decreased neighborhood linguistic isolation for girls. Neighborhood socio-cultural characteristics accounted for more variance in obesity compared to body mass index z-score or waist circumference. CONCLUSION: Park access, food environment, and neighborhood socio-cultural characteristics are independent contributors to body fat in children, and the contribution of these risks differs by gender. There are incremental gains to using a more accurate measure of body fat in built environment obesity studies.

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Microscale Audit of Pedestrian Streetscapes (MAPS)

Date: 
05/01/2015
Description: 

The Microscale Audit of Pedestrian Streetscapes (MAPS) was developed to collect audit data on the pedestrian environment and walkability in neighborhoods.

Abstract: 

“Microscale” factors of the built environment differ from macro-level design elements such as street connectivity and residential density and include details about streets, sidewalks, intersections, and design characteristics (e.g., road crossing features, presence of trees, bicycle lanes, curbs), as well as characteristics of the social environment (e.g., stray dogs, graffiti, trash). Microscale factors may also influence physical activity but have not been studied as extensively as macro-level factors. Studying microscale factors allows for a more fine-grained examination of the environmental features that enable or inhibit physical activity and may be more cost effectively and easily modified than macro characteristics. Microscale data are typically collected using in-person environmental audits.

There are three versions of the MAPS tool, each with varying degrees of complexity and intended users:

  • MAPS-Full: 120-item audit survey, intended for researcher use
  • MAPS-Abbreviated: 60-item audit survey, intended for researcher and advanced practitioner use
  • MAPS-Mini: 15-item audit survey, intended for practitioner, advocacy, and community member use

 

The MAPS tool and protocols can be found here.

Information specifically on the MAPS-Mini can be found here.

Authors: 
Kelli L. Cain, Rachel A. Millstein, James F. Sallis, Terry L. Conway, Kavita A. Gavand, Lawrence D. Frank, Brian E. Saelens, Carrie M. Geremia, James Chapman, Marc A. Adams, Karen Glanz, Abby C. King
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Impact of Park Renovations on Park Use and Park-Based Physical Activity

Date: 
02/01/2015
Description: 

Cohen, D. A., Han, B., Isacoff, J., Shulaker, B., Williamson, S., Marsh, T., et al. (2015). Impact of Park Renovations on Park Use and Park-Based Physical Activity. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12(2), 289-295.

Abstract: 

BACKGROUND: Given the concerns about low rates of physical activity among low-income minority youth, many community-based organizations are investing in the creation or renovation of public parks to encourage youth to become more physically active. To what degree park renovations accomplish this goal is not known. METHODS: We used the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to measure park users and their physical activity levels before and after 2 parks were renovated. We compared findings with 4 parks: 2 that were unrenovated parks and 2 that were undergoing renovation. We also surveyed park users and local residents about their use of the parks. RESULTS: Compared with parks that had not yet been renovated, the improved parks saw more than a doubling in the number of visitors and a substantial increase in energy expended in the parks. Increased park use was pronounced in adults and children, but was not seen in teens and seniors. Park renovations were associated with a significantly increased perception of park safety. CONCLUSIONS: Park improvements can have a significant impact on increasing park use and local physical activity.

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Mebane on the Move: A Community-based Initiative to Reduce Childhood Obesity

Description: 

Martinie, A., Brouwer, R. J., & Benjamin Neelon, S. E. (2012). Mebane on the Move: A Community-based Initiative to Reduce Childhood Obesity. North Carolina Medical Journal, 73(5), 382-383.

Date: 
09/15/2012
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Associations between BMI and Home, School and Route Environmental Exposures Estimated Using GPS and GIS: Do We See Evidence of Selective Daily Mobility Bias in Children?

Date: 
02/06/2015
Description: 

Burgoine, T., Jones, A. P., Namenek Brouwer, R. J., & Benjamin Neelon, S. E. (2015). Associations between BMI and Home, School and Route Environmental Exposures Estimated Using GPS and GIS: Do We See Evidence of Selective Daily Mobility Bias in Children? International Journal of Health Geographics, 14(8).

Abstract: 

BACKGROUND: This study examined whether objective measures of food, physical activity and built environment exposures, in home and non-home settings, contribute to children's body weight. Further, comparing GPS and GIS measures of environmental exposures along routes to and from school, we tested for evidence of selective daily mobility bias when using GPS data. METHODS: This study is a cross-sectional analysis, using objective assessments of body weight in relation to multiple environmental exposures. Data presented are from a sample of 94 school-aged children, aged 5-11 years. Children's heights and weights were measured by trained researchers, and used to calculate BMI z-scores. Participants wore a GPS device for one full week. Environmental exposures were estimated within home and school neighbourhoods, and along GIS (modelled) and GPS (actual) routes from home to school. We directly compared associations between BMI and GIS-modelled versus GPS-derived environmental exposures. The study was conducted in Mebane and Mount Airy, North Carolina, USA, in 2011. RESULTS: In adjusted regression models, greater school walkability was associated with significantly lower mean BMI. Greater home walkability was associated with increased BMI, as was greater school access to green space. Adjusted associations between BMI and route exposure characteristics were null. The use of GPS-actual route exposure did not appear to confound associations between environmental exposures and BMI in this sample. CONCLUSIONS: This study found few associations between environmental exposures in home, school and commuting domains and body weight in children. However, walkability of the school neighbourhood may be important. Of the other significant associations observed, some were in unexpected directions. Importantly, we found no evidence of selective daily mobility bias in this sample, although our study design is in need of replication in a free-living adult sample.

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Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities

Date: 
04/21/2015
Description: 

National Women's Law Center & The Poverty and Race Research Action Council. (2015). Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities. Washington, DC: National Women's Law Center.

Abstract: 

This report, from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), presents data showing that at the national and state levels, girls of color do not receive equal chances to play school sports. The report delves into the consequences of this inequality for girls of color and offers recommendations for addressing the problem.

The major findings of the report are:

  • Over 40 percent of our nation’s schools are either heavily white or heavily minority.
  • Heavily minority schools not only offer fewer overall athletic opportunities (a race discrimination issue under Title VI) but also fail to distribute those limited opportunities equitably between boys and girls (a sex discrimination issue under Title IX).
  • In fact, 40 percent of heavily minority high schools, compared to 16 percent of heavily white schools, have large gaps between the percentage of spots on teams for girls and the percentage of students who are girls. These gaps suggest a lack of compliance with Title IX. This means that girls of color finish last in terms of chances to play sports.

 

This report was partially funded by Active Living Research through a Commissioned Analysis Award.

You can also read a blog post about the report: Girls of Color Are Doubly Disadvantaged in Access to School Sports Opportunities

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